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Politics & Government

PA Lawmaker Says State's DUI Penalties Are 'Too Slight'

A tragic car accident that claimed the life of a teenage girl in Lancaster County has moved Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) to call on his colleagues to help toughen up Pennsylvania's laws against drunk driving.

"The consequences for offenders still seem far too slight in contrast to the pain of the families who lose loved ones, or who must deal with those whose lives are forever changed and limited by the kind of serious injuries that have been sustained," Smucker said.

A Sept. 8 hearing in Lancaster City will consider possible changes to strengthen the state's anti-drunk-driving laws. The chairmen of the Senate Transportation and Judiciary committees, which would likely have to approve any such proposals, have been invited (Smucker's office said both have responded "favorably" to the invitation).

The hearing was prompted by an open letter from Chris and Susan Demko, whose teenage daughter was killed in a July accident involving a driver with a suspended license who has been charged for driving under the influence. Local authorities said the driver involved was drunk and high, and had a history of driving on a suspended license.

"The large number of repeat offenders is proof that a license suspension is not a sufficient deterrent," said Smucker in a written statement. "We need to utilize the combination of technology and sanctions that other states use to drastically reduce the incidence of repeat offenses. Ignition interlock, vehicle seizure, upgraded charges, are among measures I favor as part of a comprehensive remedy."

A couple of proposals introduced in the state House and Senate would require first-time DUI offenders to have ignition interlock systems installed in their car. Right now, Pennsylvania law requires such Breathalyzer-type tests to be installed temporarily only in the cars of people convicted twice or more for driving under the influence.